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History of Early American Landscape Design

John Bartram

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John Bartram (March 23, 1699 – September 22, 1777) was an American-born farmer, as well as a pioneering botanist, horticulturalist, and explorer. He founded the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery near Philadelphia and made significant contributions to the collection, study, and international dissemination of North American flora and fauna.


The son of a Quaker farmer in rural Pennsylvania, John Bartram possessed from an early age a “great inclination to botany & natural history,” which he pursued through exploration and independent study.[1] In his late twenties, Bartram purchased improved farm land on the banks of the lower Schuylkill River a few miles from Philadelphia, the epicenter of colonial America's scientific community.[2] He reserved a half dozen acres for a botanic garden, which he filled with plants gathered while exploring the surrounding countryside. Bartram also collected leaves, ferns, and grasses for his friends Benjamin Franklin and the Philadelphia scrivener-naturalist Joseph Breintnall (d. 1746), who experimented in the early 1730s with nature prints made by inking natural specimens and transferring the impressions to paper.[3] Bartram's contributions enabled Breintnall to make a comprehensive, two-volume collection of leaves indigenous to Philadelphia — a collection that greatly interested botanical enthusiasts in Europe, such as the Quaker cloth merchant Peter Collinson, an enterprising Fellow of the Royal Society in London, who received a set in 1733.[4] That same year, Breintnell recommended Bartram as “a very proper person” to furnish Collinson with actual seeds and plants from North America. “Being a native of Pensilvania with a numerous Family,” Breitnall observed, “The profits ariseing from Gathering Seeds would enable him to support it.”[5] With that, Bartram and Collinson embarked on a 35-year exchange of botanical materials that forever altered the vegetation of Britain and America.[6]

In addition to coaching Bartram in techniques for collecting and preserving "Curious odd" specimens of plants, insects, and animals, Collison fostered his knowledge of taxonomy, requesting that Bartram ship duplicate specimens so that he could “gett them named by our most knowing Botanists and return them again — which will improve thee more than Books.”[7] In May 1737 Collinson returned 208 specimens to Bartram, with identifications made by Johann Jacob Dillenius (1684-1747), curator of the Oxford University Botanic Garden.[8] Many of these specimens thrived in Collinson's garden at Peckham, where the exotic North American plants attracted the notice of botanists, professional seedsmen, and gardeners. Working through Collinson's connections, Bartram began to supply plants, seeds, roots, and tubers to several other eminent members of the European scientific community, including Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), president of the Royal Society and patron of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, Philip Miller, director of the Chelsea Physic Garden, and Carolus Linnaeus, professor of medicine and botany at Uppsala University in Sweden.[9] He also filled requests from wealthy estate owners ornamenting their gardens with American trees and shrubs, chief among them Robert James Petre, 8th Baron Petre (1713-1742), who preserved some of Bartram's specimens in an herbarium.[10] As demand grew, Bartram began to standardize his practice, assembling boxes containing 100 specimens, chiefly of trees and shrubs, that were distributed to British subscribers recruited by Collinson.[11] Bartram was simultaneously supplying a growing demand for live plants from European clients, as well as a burgeoning market for exotic specimens among American gardeners in Philadelphia, Charleston, and New York.[12]

In addition to financial compensation, Bartram received seeds from his English contacts, which contributed to the encyclopedic range of his garden. Collinson dispatched a collection of “60 sorts of Curious seeds” that he and Phillip Miller had assembled for Bartram in 1736, and from Lady Petre (1716–31 January 1760) he received the seed of a rare pear tree that flourished in his garden for the next 150 years.[13] Bartram’s British correspondents also rewarded his efforts with books, enabling him to further his education while building a valuable natural history reference library. For his services to Dillenius, he received the first volume of Phillip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary in 1737, with the supplement arriving two years later, the gift of Lord Petre (1713-1742).[14] Bartram entered into a more complicated arrangement with the English botanist Mark Catesby, whose magisterial two-volume Natural History contained several Bartram-supplied plants from Peter Collinson's garden. Beginning in 1740, Collinson sent annual installments of his book to Bartram in exchange for American plants — several of which then appeared in the final supplement to the Natural History.[15]

Many of these seeds, live plants, cuttings, and roots came from Bartram's own garden, but Bartram also made expeditions up and down the East Coast in search of rare and useful plants. The opportunity to observe plants growing in their natural habitats shaped his understanding of botany and his approach to the botanic garden and nursery he was developing at his Schuylkill River farm.[16] With the exception of a four-year hiatus from 1746 to 1749, Bartram traveled virtually every year from 1735 until 1766, hunting for natural specimens and touring gardens from New England to Florida.[17] Armed with a detailed itinerary and letters of introduction from Collinson, Bartram trekked through Maryland and Virginia in the autumn of 1738, where he was disappointed to find the gardens "poorly furnished with Curiosities." Even those of the wealthy planter William Byrd and the botanist John Clayton lacked the variety of Philadelphia's gardens, which he attributed to importations from England, France, Holland, and Germany.[18] Bartram frequently visited New Jersey and New York, and while exploring the Catskill mountains in 1842, he made the first of several visits to the Irish-born physician and botanist Cadwallader Colden and his daughter Jane, with whom he carried out a lengthy correspondence. In the spring of 1754, they introduced him to Dr. Alexander Garden of Charleston, who sought Bartram out in Philadelphia a few months later and spent several days exploring the surrounding countryside in his company.[19] Bartram returned the visit in 1760 on his first trip to North and South Carolina.[20] In Charleston he met Elizabeth and Thomas Lamboll, who became reliable correspondents and suppliers of tropical specimens.[21] A brief encounter with the Charleston horticulturalist Martha Daniell Logan, author of the Gardeners Kalender, initiated a mutually beneficial exchange of seeds, roots, and bulbs — several of which Logan obtained from the gardens of her Charleston neighbors.[22]

Collinson boosted Bartram’s business by repeatedly publishing his seed catalogue in The Gentleman’s Magazine of London during the 1750s, touting it as “the largest Collection that has ever before been imported into this Kingdom.”[23] In the mid 1760s Bartram began collecting seeds for a new botanic garden in Edinburgh at the request of Dr. John Hope (1725-1786), King's Botanist for Scotland and professor of botany at the University of Edinburgh, who recognized Bartram's services with a medal.[24] Many seeds and specimens gathered by Bartram found their way to the royal gardens at Kew, and in September 1764 Bartram assembled a box of "new discovered specimens" of plants for the king. Several months later, George III conferred on Bartram the position of ___ with an annual stipend of £50 &mdash a reward that owed something to lobbying by Collinson and Benjamin Franklin.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag Rising demand required expanded production. “I must inlarge my nursery garden,” Bartram informed a friend in August 1769.[25]


  • July 18, 1739, Bartram, John, describing Westover, seat of William Byrd II, on the James River, Va. (1992: 121) [26]
“Col Byrd is very prodigal in Gates roads walks hedges & seeders [cedars] trimed finely & A little green house with 2 or 3 [orange] trees . . .”

"Mr. John Bartram is an Englishman, who lives in the country about four miles from Philadelphia. He has acquired a great knowledge of natural philosophy and history, and seems to be born with a peculiar genius for these sciences.... He has in several successive years made frequent excursions into different distant parts of North America, with an intention of gathering all sorts of plants which are scarce and little known. Those which he found he has planted in his own botanical garden, and likewise sent over their seeds or fresh roots to England. We owe to him the knowledge of many scarce plants, which he first found, and which were never known before."

"I have met wt very Little new in the Botanic way unless Your acquaintance Bartram, who is what he is & whose acquaintance alone makes amends for other disappointments in that way.... One Day he Dragged me out of town & Entertain'd me so agreably with some Elevated Botanicall thoughts, on oaks, Firns, Rocks & c that I forgot I was hungry till we Landed in his house about four Miles from Town....

"His garden is a perfect portraiture of himself, here you meet wt a row of rare plants almost covered over wt weeds, here with a Beautiful Shrub, even Luxuriant Amongst Briars, and in another corner an Elegant & Lofty tree lost in common thicket — on our way from town to his house he carried me to severall rocks & Dens where he shewed me some of his rare plants, which he had brought from the Mountains &c. In a word he disdains to have a garden less than Pensylvania [sic] & Every den is an Arbour, Every run of water, a Canal, & every small level Spot a Parterre, where he nurses up some of his Idol Flowers & cultivates his darling productions. He had many plants whose names he did not know, most or all of which I had seen & knew them — On the other hand he had several I had not seen & some I never heard of."

  • June 24, 1760, Bartram, John, in a letter to Peter Collinson, describing his plans for the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery, vicinity of Philadelphia, Pa. (quoted in Darlington 1849: 224) [29]
“Dear friend, I am going to build a greenhouse. Stone is got; and hope as soon as harvest is over to begin to build it, to put some pretty flowering winter shrubs, and plants for winter’s diversion; not to be crowded with orange trees, or those natural to the Torrid Zone, but such as will do, being protected from frost.”

  • December 3, 1762, Bartram, John, describing Charleston, S.C. (quoted in Darlington 1849: 242–43) [29]
“I can’t find, in our country, that south walls are much protection against our cold, for if we cover so close as to keep out the frost, they are suffocated.”

"Let us... pay a visit to Mr. John Bertram [sic], the first botanist, in this new hemisphere.... It is to this simple man that America is indebted for several useful discoveries, and the knowledge of many new plants....

"His house is small, but decent: there was something peculiar in its first appearance, which seemed to distinguish it from those of his neighbours: a small tower in the middle of it, not only helped to strengthen it but afforded convenient room for a staircase. Every disposition of the fields, fences, and trees, seemed to bear the marks of perfect order and regularity, which in rural affairs, always indicate a prosperous industry...

"From his study we went into the garden, which contained a great variety of curious plants and shrubs; some grew in a green-house, over the door of which were written these lines,

" Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
" But looks through nature, up to nature's God!"

“He [John Bartram] was, perhaps, the first Anglo-American who conceived the idea of establishing a BOTANIC GARDEN for the reception and cultivation of the various vegetables, natives of the country, as well as exotics, and of travelling for the discovery and acquisition of them.
“* The BARTRAM BOTANIC GARDEN, (established in or about the year 1730,) is most eligibly and beautifully situated, on the right bank of the river Schuylkill, a short distance below the city of Philadelphia. Being the oldest establishment of the kind in this western world, and exceedingly interesting, from its history and associations, — one might almost hope, even in this utilitarian age, that, if no motive more commendable could avail, a feeling of state or city pride, would be sufficient to ensure its preservation, in its original character, and for the sake of its original objects. But, alas! there seems to be too much reason to apprehend that it will scarcely survive the immediate family of its noble-hearted founder, — and that even the present generation may live to see the accumulated treasures of a century laid waste—with all the once gay parterres and lovely borders converted into lumberyards and coal-landings.”




  1. John Bartram to Alexander Catcott, May 26, 1742, quoted in The Correspondence of John Bartram 1734-1777, ed. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1992), 193-94, view on Zotero; see also Joel T. Fry, John Bartram’s House and Garden (Bartram's Garden), Historic American Landscape Survey, HALS No. PA-1, 2004, 20-22,view on Zotero; Alan W. Armstrong, “John Bartram and Peter Collinson: A Correspondence of Science and Friendship” in Nancy Everill Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne, eds., America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 249 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004): 23-42, view on Zotero.
  2. Fry, 2004, 27-28, view on Zotero.
  3. Armstrong, 2004, 28, view on Zotero.
  4. J. A. Leo Lemay, The Life of Benjamin Franklin, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 2 (Printer and Publisher, 1730-1747), 463, view on Zotero; “Extracts from the Gazette, 1733,” The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 1 (January 6, 1706 through December 31, 1734), ed. Leonard W. Labaree (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1959, p. 349 n.6, view on Zotero; Edwin Wolf II, and Marie Elena Korey, eds., Quarter of a Millennium: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1731-1981: A Selection of Books, Manuscripts, Maps, Prints, Drawings, and Paintings (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1981), 17, view on Zotero.
  5. Peter [Pehr] Collinson, ‘Forget Not Mee & My Garden’: Selected Letters 1725-1768 of Peter Collinson, F.R.S., ed. Alan W. Armstrong (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2002), xxvi, view on Zotero.
  6. For Bartram's concern about the environmental impact of invasive plants imported from England to America, see Stephanie Volmer, Planting a New World: Letters and Languages of Transatlantic Botanical Exchange, 1733--1777, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, 2008), 54-57,view on Zotero.
  7. Peter Collinson to John Bartram, January 24, 1735, quoted in William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 64, view on Zotero.
  8. Armstrong, 2004, 30, [https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/T5AMSHET view on Zotero.
  9. Darlington, 1849, 92, 123, 165, 302, 324, 371-72, 380-90, view on Zotero; Armstrong, 2004, 23, 27, view on Zotero; Alfred E. Schuyler, "On the Discovery of Helonias Bullata L. (Swamp-Pink) and the Source of the Specimens in the Linnaean Herbarium," Pennsylvania Legacies, 4 (November 2004), 10-13, view on Zotero; Hazel Le Rougetel, "Philip Miller/John Bartram Botanical Exchange," Garden History, 14 (spring 1986), 32-39, https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/V27SVXWI view on Zotero]; Sarah P. Stetson, "The Traffic in Seeds and Plants from England’s Colonies in North America," Agricultural History, 23 (January 1949): 50-55, view on Zotero.
  10. John Edmondson, "John Bartram’s Legacy in Eighteenth-Century Botanical Art: The Knowsley Ehrets," in America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, ed. by Nancy Everill Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 249 (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 2004), 143-45, 148-50, view on Zotero; Joel T. Fry, "John Bartram and His Garden: Would John Bartram Recognize His Garden Today?", in America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, ed. by Nancy Everill Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 2004), 249, view on Zotero; Douglas Chambers, The Planters of the English Landscape Garden: Botany, Trees, and the Georgics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 110-19, view on Zotero; Mark Laird, The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720-1800 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 63-78, view on Zotero; Armstrong, 2004, 24, 27, 29, 30, 38, view on Zotero; Alfred E. Schuyler and Ann Newbold, "Vascular Plants in Lord Petre’s Herbarium Collected by John Bartram," Bartonia, 53 (1987), 41-43, view on Zotero.
  11. For various estimates of the number of subscribers, see Fry, 2004, 24-25; Patriot-Improvers, 50; Volmer, 2008, 39; Armstrong, 2004, 30, 38; Laird, Flowering of the Landscape Garden, 80.
  12. Fry, 2004, 37; Meyer, Paul W., ‘A Proposal for the Interpretation of John Bartram’s Garden’ (unpublished Masters of Science Thesis, University of Delaware, 1977), 92.
  13. Quoted in Fry, 2004, 35, view on Zotero; James Boyd, A History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1827-1927 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1929), 1151-52, view on Zotero.
  14. William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 95-96, 135; see also 103, 303-05, 323, view on Zotero.
  15. David R. Brigham, "Mark Catesby and the Patronage of Natural History in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century," in Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby's New World Vision, ed. Amy R. W. Meyers and Margaret Beck Pritchard (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press (published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1998), 121-22, view on Zotero; James L. Reveal, "Identification of the Plant and Associated Animal Images in Catesby’s 'Natural History,' with Nomenclatural Notes and Comments," Rhodora, 111 (2009): 304, 338, 339, 358, 362, 363, 372, view on Zotero; George Frederick Frick and Raymond Phineas Stearns, Mark Catesby: The Colonial Audubon (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1970), 90-91, view on Zotero; Darlington, 1849, 319-20, view on Zotero.
  16. Therese O'Malley, "Art and Science in the Design of Botanic Gardens, 1730-1830," in Garden History: Issues and Approaches, ed. John Dixon Hunt, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, vol. 13 (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1992), 282, view on Zotero.
  17. For timelines and annotated maps documenting Bartram’s travels, see Nancy Everill Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne, eds., America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004), xviii- xxvi view on Zotero.
  18. John Bartram to Peter Collinson, June 11, 1743, quoted in Correspondence of John Bartram, 1992, 215-16. See also Darlington, 88-89, 113, Fry, 2004, 25, 34-35view on Zotero.
  19. Hoffmann and Van Horne, 2004, xx,view on Zotero; Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 42-46, view on Zotero.
  20. Berkeley and Berkeley, 1969, 151-54, view on Zotero.
  21. Darlington, 1849, 436, see also 235, 285, view on Zotero
  22. Martha Daniell Logan, “Letters of Martha Logan to John Bartram, 1760-1763,” ed. Mary Barbot Prior, The South Carolina Historical Magazine 59 (1958): 38-46 view on Zotero; John Bartram to Peter Collinson, May 22, 1761, quoted in William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 230-31, view on Zotero.
  23. Armstrong, 2004, 25.
  24. John H. Harvey, "A Scottish Botanist in London in 1766," Garden History, 9 (1981), 40–75, view on Zotero; Darlington, 266;
  25. John Bartram to John Fothergill, August 12, 1769, quoted in Fry, 2004, 37.
  26. John Bartram, The Correspondence of John Bartram, 1734-1777, ed. by Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992), view on Zotero.
  27. Peter [Pehr] Kalm, Travels into North America: Containing Its Natural History, and a Circumstantial Account of Its Plantations and Agriculture in General, with the Civil, Ecclesiastical and Commercial State of the Country, the Manners of the Inhabitants, and Several Curious and Important Remarks on Various Subjects, trans. John Reinhold Forster, 3 vols. (London: John Reinhold Forster, 1770), 1, view on Zotero.
  28. Cadwallader Colden, "The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden", vol. 4 (1748-1754), Collections of the New-York Historical Society (1920): 471-72, view on Zotero.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), view on Zotero.
  30. "A Russian Gentleman, Describing the Visit He Paid at My Request To Mr. John Bertram, The Celebrated Pennsylvanian Botanist," quoted in J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer: Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs Not Generally Known (London: Thomas Davies and Lockyer Davis, 1783), view on Zotero

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